Research has clearly shown that when employees feel valued and appreciated by their supervisor and colleagues, good things happen. Individual team members experience positive outcomes. The workplace community and the organisation become healthier, being better able to achieve their mission and goals.
Unfortunately, this is not the experience for most managers and employees. Even though 80-90 percent of organisations have some form of employee recognition program, the levels of job satisfaction have declined and negative or even toxic workplaces are increasing.
Why? One foundational reason is that most employees receive very little positive feedback regarding their contributions.
“If I do my work well and complete it on time, I don’t hear anything. In fact, the silence is deafening,” reported one accountant. “But, if I make a mistake, they let me know about it immediately.”
Secondly, the recognition communicated is generally perceived as impersonal, contrived and inauthentic. “Way to go!” “Good work!” “You all are doing a great job!” All are common phrases used by supervisors. But they communicate little value to the individual who stayed late to get the data entered for today’s report.
Emotional Well-being & Relational Health
Communicating authentic appreciation (as opposed to “going through the motions” employee recognition activities) leads to a greater sense of emotional well-being for individual team members and relational health for workplace relationships.
When team members learn how to communicate authentic appreciation for one another’s contributions, then the individual employees begin to develop a more positive view of themselves, their abilities and their contributions to the organisation. Additionally, a sense of wellbeing grows from being supportive and encouraging of others, by celebrating others’ strengths and accomplishments, as well as receiving praise for your efforts.
When individuals feel truly valued and appreciated, we get along better with others. We become less irritable and easily offended, and more gracious in relating to others. Also, a greater sense of connectedness and camaraderie develops when colleagues can genuinely communicate how much they value their co-workers.
Communicating Authentic Appreciation
One foundational concept is to understand that not everyone feels appreciated (or supported) in the same ways. For some, a word of encouragement is meaningful. For others, “words are cheap” and they feel valued when others choose to spend time with them. We have found that there are 5 languages of appreciation* used in the workplace, and that the languages are valid across cultures (although the individual actions within each language varies from culture to culture.)
Core Conditions for Staff to Truly Feel Appreciated
Four core conditions have been identified which need to be present in order for employees to feel appreciated, which differs from recognition just being communicated. Team members will feel valued when appreciation is communicated:
1. Regularly. - What is ‘regularly’? It varies depending on the work setting, the frequency of interaction between co-workers, and the nature of the relationship. However, ‘regularly’ clearly implies more than once a year at an employee’s performance review, or when someone receives the “Staff Member of the Month” award.
2. Utilising the ‘language’ and actions important to the recipient - The key word is “recipient”. Most of us tend to communicate appreciation to others through the actions that we value – like giving a verbal compliment or sending an email. But not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways. Some people appreciate words of affirmation, while others are encouraged when someone helps them with a task. Spending time is another way to demonstrate support, like stopping by a colleague’s office to see how they are doing. Bringing a colleague their favourite cup of tea when you know they’ve had a long day can promote harmony. Even a “high five” or a “fist bump” can be a form of celebration when the completion of a difficult project.
3. In a way that is personal and individualised - While group-based recognition is a good start (e.g. “Way to go, team. Our client satisfaction ratings improved significantly last quarter.”), if the appreciation doesn’t relate to what the individual team member did to help achieve the goal, the communication can fall flat. Team members want to know what they have done that is valued – that you are aware and appreciate that they stayed late after the special marketing event to help clean up.
4. In a manner that is perceived as genuine and authentic - If the communication of appreciation is not perceived as being genuine, nothing else really matters. Actions of recognition can appear inauthentic when:
- The actions suddenly appear after implementation of a program on appreciation;
- A person’s tone of voice, posture, or facial expressions don’t seem to match what they are saying;
- How a person relates to you in front of others differs from how they interact with you privately;
- The individual has a history of “saying one thing and doing another”; or
- There is an overall question of the motivation of the deliverer – do they have an ulterior motive?
- There are other potential factors that undermine perceived authenticity, but these are some of the most common mentioned.
Improving individuals’ emotional health and relational wellness is a realistic goal to pursue. Beneficial results happen when individuals feel truly valued and appreciated for their contributions: employee relationships are less tense, communication becomes more positive, policies and procedures are followed more, staff turnover decreases, and managers report enjoying their work more. Clearly, when supervisors and colleagues begin to communicate appreciation in the ways that are important to the recipients, encouraging results are not far away.
Paul White, Ph.D.